A file photo of Narendra Modi and Atal Bihari VA file photo of Narendra Modi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Bangalore. AFPajpayee in Bangalore. AFP
Make no mistake -- Narendra Modi has carefully crafted the campaign for Gujarat 2012, with an eye on Delhi 2014. His strategy is contained in the slogan he has chosen – Ekmat Gujarat or united Gujarat, but will a mere slogan help Modi make the transition from ‘Hindu nationalist’ to pan Indian? Will the campaign alone suffice to rid of the communal tag he wore with pride until now?
Indeed, Modi’s prime ministerial ambitions have come at a time when Hindutva politics is losing its appeal nationally. Today, even hardcore RSS sympathizers only pay lip service to Ayodhya and the ‘mandir vaheen banayge’ shouts that helped the BJP ride to power in the Centre. Hindutva, so fashionable in 1992, after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, has clearly lost its appeal BJP’s national leaders.
Modi himself is not convinced of the new ideology he is trying to espouse. He may have fasted for three days during his sadbhavna mission and he’s trying hard, now, to speak the language of development, but as one of his aides told me in Gujarat recently, “Giving Modi an image make-over is not easy. It’s like trying to square a circle, a near impossible task.”
Indeed, Modi’s appeal was born out of anti-Muslim rhetoric that followed the 2002 riots. The ‘every action has a reaction’ justification of the mad violence that gripped Gujarat, helped Modi in 2002 and even in the 2007 election. But in 2012, if Modi appears schizophrenic -- not fielding a single Muslim candidate; yet sharing a stage with cricketer Irfan Pathan; announcing the sadhbhavna and yet rejecting the skull cap – it’s because he is caught between practicing what he doesn’t inherently believe in.
Give Modi a 2002-like situation and he’ll flourish. He did that soon after Godhra and reaped rich political dividends. The man, who emerged as the savior of the Hindus by inflaming 90 per cent against the ten percent, is caught between two stools. What worked for him in Gujarat is precisely what keeps him from crossing the state’s borders.
Yet, he knows the timing is right. The BJP is caught in a political crisis and the party may well be forced to turn to him, provided he can demonstrate the ability of landing a decisive victory; of achieving a hat-trick and maintaining a two-thirds majority. That’s the reason why Modi’s electoral war room has set itself an internal target of 117 seats. If he does achieve that – and that’s the thinking within his camp – then his journey to Delhi will become easier. He may still face some resistance from the other prime ministerial candidates within the BJP, but they may be forced to make way for what can best be described as Moditva.
And of course, he has to contend with NDA’s allies, but that will come much later. For now, Modi faces a huge dilemma – he is trying to project himself as a Vajpayee when his politics is cut from the same cloth that LK Advani’s was cut from. It will take much more than an Irfan Pathan to blunt the very edges that have made him a larger-than-life regional mascot.